I first heard the gospel in a context, manner, and form I could understand from a former tugboat captain named Hal Lindsey. Every Wednesday night, students from UCLA gathered at the Light and Power House, a former college fraternity house on the fringes of the campus, to hear Hal teach the Bible. Some students came from evangelical backgrounds. Many more were from nominal Christian or secular homes. Hal, often dressed in a tank top, blue jeans, and leather boots, walked us through the Bible. I recall, almost wistfully, the sense of excitement, intensity, and urgency we felt as Hal linked the Scripture to our world, our dilemmas, our questions. He possessed a gift for linking the simplicity of the gospel to our longing for truth and our interest in discerning how Christ’s work and words were connected to life in the wacky world of the sixties and early seventies. And, of course, Hal’s interest in biblical prophecy fed into the wider apocalyptic fervor of the youth culture and American culture at large.[1]

I didn’t always understand everything that Hal was saying. One thing I did understand, though. Jesus had died for my sins, had been raised from the dead, would someday return, and expected me to do something with my life. I was fully prepared to walk through a wide gate into the halls of the University of San Diego Law School, and Christ has something different in store for me, a more narrow, demanding gate. 

Let me be very clear; for others with a different vocation the narrow, demanding gate would have been law school. I think, for instance, of Bryan Stevenson and all he has done on behalf of the poor, the wrongly incarcerated, and those held in the hellish environment of death row. Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission also comes to mind. For me, though, the narrow gate was a no” to law school and a yes” to three years of unaccredited study at the Light and Power House. 

I still recall the conversation during which I informed an admissions official at the University of San Diego that I wouldn’t be coming there to study law. Oh,” he responded. And what will you be doing?” I hesitated in responding. I hadn’t expected such a direct question. And who had ever heard of the Light and Power House? There had to be a respectable, honorable way out of this conversation. I’ve decided to study theology.” There. I had responded truthfully. In fact, there was a certain loftiness to my future vocation; theology was a field in which people thought great thoughts, for heaven’s sake. Or at least that was my budding impression. And where will you be studying,” he asked. What was I to do? What was I to say? Finally, I blurted out, I’ll be studying at the Light and Power House up here in LA.” Oh.” There was a long, silent pause. I could sense disdain rippling through the phone line. I’m sure you’ll do well.” Click. 

Wide gate. Broad road. Small gate. Narrow road. Each possesses its own demands and delights, its clarities and confusions, its comforts and pains. 

I often think of Bonhoeffer’s last day on earth, April 8, 1945. I imagine myself as an unseen observer at Bonhoeffer’s last way station, the concentration camp at Flossenburg, Germany. A gallows stands in the distance, stark, lonely, forbidding. Since early morning this wooden, wicked trellis has been creaking as one body, one life after another falls, bounces, and swings. Hitler and Himmler are enjoying one final field day, one long, last spiteful chuckle. Then I spot him; there is Bonhoeffer, naked as a baby boy, climbing the stairs of the hangman’s tree, ready to fly home. Bonhoeffer turns. He looks right at me. Remember, Chris, the call to discipleship is the call to change.” He smiles. Fly away home, boy. Fly away. 

Oh Lord, you can be so demanding. You don’t let up. You ask so much of us, your image-bearers. And yet you give so much in return, all our hearts can hold and then more. Why are we so afraid to follow, so afraid to trust? I ponder your invitations. I want to give all I own to follow you. I want to eat at your messianic banquet. I want to enter through your small gate and walk your narrow road – at least some of the time. But I don’t know how. I get confused. Help me, Lord. I’m apt to hunker down. Left to myself, I’m apt to hide. I get scared. Call me out of myself. Teach me how to be your disciple, your apprentice. I need your help so badly. Left to myself, I’m out of hope, out of gas, expended. Grace, Lord. Pour it out. My mouth is wide open. And, then, Lord, drink me up.” 

[1] I am here drawing on material from my article, What Hal Lindsey Taught Me About the Second Coming,” Christianity Today, October 25, 1999, Vol. 43, No. 12.